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Footsies is an archaic term for the primarily grounded component of the neutral game, played at mid-range, especially in Street Fighter styled fighting games. It tends to revolve around moving back and forth, and poking each other, usually with low cancellable normals (hence footsies, since characters tend to attack with crouching kicks). Sonic Hurricane has an advanced guide to a large number of specific footsie scenarios that can help make playing this component of the game more concrete. JuiceboxFGC also has a good guide to footsies that primarily focuses on whiff punishment.

The basics rules are, in the neutral game:

  • If you use a move that outranges your opponent's move, you will win, thus pokes beat jabs.
  • If you use a move that starts up before your opponent's move (either because it's faster, or you pressed the button earlier), you will win.
  • Attacks beat throws, because they have more range.
  • Throws beat blocks, because throws are unblockable.
  • Blocks beat attacks, because they prevent damage.
  • Up close, throws beat attacks, because they're faster than attacks.
  • Attacking extends your hurtbox, thus your limb can be hit if it misses.
  • Jumping beats all grounded actions except anti-airs.
  • Jumping is reactable, so if you're doing nothing, you can react to beat jump-ins.

These rules create the basis for the footsies game. Not all games necessarily follow these rules, because they might have additional mechanics that make the mid-screen neutral game different or make it occur less frequently.

Because of these rules, there are a few rock paper scissors triangles that result.

  • Attacks > Throws > Blocks > Attacks
  • Whiff Punishing > Poking > Moving into your opponent's space > Whiff Punishing
  • Waiting for your opponent to do something then punishing it on reaction > doing something pre-emptively to stop your opponent > Taking advantage of your opponent's passiveness to move in on them or set up > Waiting for your opponent to do something
  • Jump-ins > Fireballs > Anti-Air > Jump-ins

Try looking for other rock paper scissors triangles in fighting games, or cases where there are more than 3 options, which each beat your opponent's options differently, with different risks and rewards. These are common across fighting games, things that beat each other cyclically, with differing tradeoffs between each option. They form the basis for how you land hits on your opponents.